February 15, 2012
Prell Shampoo’s “Tallulah the Tube” was controversial because it was was based on the actress, Tullulah Bankhead, who had not given permission and did not approve:
In the spring of ’49 my ears were poisoned with this jingle:
I’m Tallulah, the tube of Prell,
And I’ve got a little something to tell,
Your hair can be radiant, oh so easy,
All you’ve got to do is take me home and squeeze me.
Another verse had this line:
For radiant hair get a-hold of me
Tullulah, the tube of Prell Shampoo
This attempt to capitalize on my name stiffened my hackles. In my thirty years in the theater I had spurned offers adding up to a maharajah’s ransom to endorse this gadget, that cure-all. Quicker than a Prell-user could dry her mane, I slapped a suit for a million dollars’ damages on the two radio companies over whose networks the verses were broadcast, on Procter and Gamble, sponsors for the lather, and on the advertising agency which schemed the outrage.
A sound file of “Tallulah, the Tube’s” radio jingle: (via: Old-Time.com)
(More about Tullulah, the Tube, after the fold…)
Life magazine covered the flap in a 1949 article and created the photo-illustration on the right.
And, in 1991, one of the ads from the “Tullulah the Tube” campaign —(ad shown below)— was analyzed in Barbara B. Stern’s “Two Pornographies: A Feminist View of Sex in Advertising”…
…The Prell tube is a fourth character, an allegorical figure with a name (“Tallulah the Tube”), bearing all the hallmarks of medieval allegory… Prell is a phallic symbol, a penis-substitute serving as a fictionalized character who acts out a consumer quest. Symbolic consummation is represented by the action of the tube: it is erect at the top of the ad and limp at the bottom, a mimetic representation of the tumescence-detumescence pattern of orgasm. The Prell character disguises the phallicism slightly with a female name, perhaps to render it more acceptable to women consumers.
Nonetheless, the character’s penile nature is introduced as early as its name, the first clue to the symbolism: the name is “Tallulah the Tube” (italics mine), an unusual allegorical reference to the package rather than to the product… This directs attention to the qualities of the tube (rather than to its contents): upright, filled to the brim, and throbbing rhythmically. Further, the Prell-penis tells the audience what is wanted — “all you’ve got to do is get a-hold of me” (italics mine). The double entendre of the lyric introduces the heroine’s ambiguous good girl/bad girl qualities, connected by subsequent word-play (“get”). If her hair is nice and shiny because she “gets a-hold of Prell,” she will also “get a-hold of” the man. However, different meanings of “getting a-hold of” depend on whether object is the man/marriage, his penis/sexual satisfaction, or the tube/shiny hair.
Two Pornographies: A Feminist View of Sex in Advertising
Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991
Black and white reproduction of Prell ad from Advances in Consumer Research article above, color detail on right from Neshachan’s Flickr Photostream